Thursday, April 26, 2007

Facial Tattoos and Social Change

Originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written 10/8/03, about the full facial tattoo in The Stars My Destination not being shocking today (or believable that it would be immediately shocking to others).

Now that kind of thing is a "problem" that used to bother me a lot, but which I have changed my mind about recently. I think there's a logical fallacy there: that since we in 2003 think tattooing is no big deal, that people in an invented future society would necessarily think tattooing is no big deal, and so any other attitudes are "wrong." That's not necessarily the case -- societies change in various ways, and go back and forth on all sorts of issues over time.

Admittedly, there is a kind of story in which the social attitudes of everyone in AD2500 is precisely the same as in the author's home town in the year he wrote the story -- and that, I agree, should be pointed out and called a defect (whether the story was written fifty years ago or yesterday). But I don't think The Stars, My Destination fits that category; the world is a solidly invented one and not merely 1955 with the serial numbers filed off.

Jack Vance, of course, is the canonical example of wildly differing social structures done well, but lots of SF writers have tried -- and succeeded, to various degrees -- to evoke different societies and people. So I don't think "these particular future people have different attitudes to we Usenet denizens today" is enough to claim a defect.

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